Russian army service is far from being prestigious

Young Russian officers understand they have poor perspectives in the army

It makes no sense speaking about reforming the Russian army and improving its alertness at the time when the accommodation issue is still one of the most burning problems for servicemen and their families. According to the legislation in force, servicemen who devoted the best years of their lives, knowledge and health to defending the motherland, their families who moved from one military camp to another must have normal living conditions.

The accommodation problem in the army was the key topic on the agenda of a round-table discussion at the Federation Council on February 28. Chairman of the Federation Council Committee for Social Policy Yeugeny Trofimov emphasized that the accommodation problem was particularly burning in the process of army modernization. He said that often servicemen retire and have to wait for 8-10 years and even longer till they are given permanent accommodation. Today, there are over 120 thousand of families of servicemen who have no apartments. Families that must be moved from closed military camps are among them.

The Russian army strength reduced from 2.7 to 1.2 million of people over the past 15 years. But still, there are not enough experienced officers and ensigns in the army because of low allowance and the accommodation problem. Young officers understand they have poor perspectives in the army when they see senior officers and their families have no apartments for living. This is the reason why about 10 thousand of graduates from military academies retire every year even before they begin career in the army.

According to the RF Defense Ministry's social center, today just ten per cent of servicemen in the Russian army are satisfied with their accommodation. What is more, chairman of the Russian Trade Union of Servicemen Oleg Shvedkov says the accommodation problem entails demographic problems. The number of unmarried young officers has increased 2.5 times over the past five years. Fifty per cent of families of servicemen are reluctant to have children, and majority of families have only one child. Up to 40 per cent of families of servicemen break up because of poor living conditions. If so, will anyone ever say army service is prestigious in Russia? According to the recent opinion polls, 83.3 per cent of lieutenants will retire as soon as they reach the age allowing to pension off.

The Defense Ministry suggested introduction of a mortgage and accumulation system for solution of the accommodation problem in the army, which comes into effect in 2005. This is considerable progress indeed, however it will take several years before the system proves to be effective. There is a program of governmental accommodation certificates meant for servicemen who retire from the army. Since 1998, 61.1 thousand of families of retiring servicemen and those who lived in closed military camps got new apartments in the framework of the program. Unfortunately, because of poor financing the program cannot cover those who have the right for free accommodation.

Participants of the round-table discussion were anxious about curtailing of the budgetary financing of the program of accommodation certificates for servicemen. In 2005, the Defense Ministry may get only 2 thousand of accommodation certificates, which is much less than the number of servicemen planning to retire this year. These accommodation certificates allow to purchase apartments at the price of 11.7 thousand of rubles ($400 approximately) per square meter, the norm universal for the whole of the country. However, this condition often disagrees with the prices on the real estate market, and servicemen will have to buy apartments in those regions of Russia that ask for prices comparable with those fixed in the accommodation certificates.

The Defense Ministry insists that the number of accommodation certificates appropriated for servicemen in 2005 must be the same that in the previous years. In January 2005, Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov asked President Putin to additionally issue 4 thousand of accommodation certificates at the end of the year. The Government will also consider increasing financing of the program in 2006-2008. Participants of the round-table discussion agreed that financing of at least 20 thousand of accommodation certificates for servicemen must be fixed in the budget ever year. Auditor of the Accounts Chamber Mikhail Beskhmelnitsyn says there is enough finance in the federal budget for this purpose.

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Author`s name Olga Savka